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MY DEAR JOHN, My last letter concluded with recommending an inquiry wlry the style of one author should be more pleasing and interesting than that of another. If instruction was the sole end of reading, that style which conveyed knowledge in the simplest terms, with the greatest clearness and correctness, would be preferable to every other. This style has indeed its value, and even its beauty; and in books of mere science ought to be preferred to every other. I shall have in future to make some observations on this subject, when I treat more particularly of the different kinds of composition; but this is not our present object. We are now considering the source of that pleasure which is derivable from the mere style, manner, or language of a literary production.
Authors have distinguished between the dif
ferent styles; and a grand division is into the plain, such as I have just now described, and the ornamented. I apprehend it is chiefly the ornamented that contributes to the mere pleasure of a reader. You cannot be at a loss to know what I mean by an ornamented style; it is that in which lively description, similies, allusions, metaphors, and the other figures of rhetoric abound.
Poetry always interests a reader of taste more than prose.
The causes of this are the harmony arising from the metre or the rhyme, and which (without entering into a metaphysical inquiry as to the cause) may be referred to the same source as the pleasure which music af. fords. The other circumstance which renders poetry pleasing is the animated and figurative language, which is one of its characteristics.
We may, I think, easily' explain why the style of one literary work is more pleasing than that of another, upon the very same principles that the matter of one is more interesting than that of another. I observed that histories of great events, tragedies, or ingenious fictions of human actions and events, always interest more than any other literary productions, and the
reason is, that they contain something that immedia:ely comes within the sphere of self, and engages, and by an associated action excites our passions.
It is of but little consequence whether the subject is fiction or reality. Robinson Crusoe, George Barnwell, and even Don Quixote, not to speak of the incomparable novel of Cecilia, interest, I will venture to say, more than Livy or than Hume. The same may be said of those plays of Shakspeare, which are notoriously founded on fiction, Hamlet, Othello, Cymbelline, Lear, the Merchant of Venice, &c., which are certainly not less interesting than his plays founded on the English history, though the latter are so far correspondent to fact, that many of the speeches are nearly a literal transcript from the antient chronicles. .
It is the picture of the little world within that interests and agitates us; it is that correspond. ent emotions are at once excited in our minds by what we see or what we read, without referring to the judgment, or examining the proofs as to the reality of what is presented to us.
The very same principles I apprehend will apply to what is called an animated style, as to an animated or interesting narrative or description. That style will engage us most which calls up the most lively and vivid images, which upon the principle of association shall excite corresponding emotions in our minds.
I can cite a very decisive proof of what I have now asserted, in the well-known and incomparable parable of the prophet Nathan. The effect of this parable, I assert, is principally owing to the style or manner in which it is narrated ; and to prove it, we näed only relate the circumstance in the usual manner of a newspaper paragraph.
“ We have it from the best authority, that Christopher Saveall, of the county of Salop, esq. the other day being surprized by the visit of a London friend and his family, and not being immediately supplied with butcher's meat, and not chusing to take any of his own flock, they being of a curious breed, dispatched two of his servants to the house of Timothy Boorman, a little farmer in the neighbourhood, who took forcibly thence, a pet lamb, which they immediately killed and dressed for the entertainment of the great man's guests.
Here is nothing particularly affecting; and
yet in England such a circumstance is more likely to excite interest and indignation, than in any of those countries where the feudal sysstem is at all predominant. It must then be from the style or manner that this narrative has so powerful an effect over the heart, that a person of sensibility can scarcely read it without a tear. Let us examine.
“ There were,” says the prophet to the royal sinner, not yet a penitent, “two men in one city; the one rich and the other poor.” Here
' the different state and circumstances of the two parties are admirably contrasted, and it affords a beautiful and striking opening to the narrative which is to follow. " The rich man," he proceeds, “had exceeding many flocks and herds.” Here is a fine amplification, and yet so far from appearing forced it is absolutely necessary, and the contrast is still preserved in the succeeding sentence :-“ But the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb”—where, observe, the words “ nothing," “ little," and even the word 66
ene,” which marks the sex, as more gentle and defenceless, are all emphatic, and increase the interest-l6 wbich he had bought,” bought it out of his little savings, it